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A Consumer-Owned Utility Would Help Maine Reach its Climate Goals

Republished here by permission of the author. Appeared originally as a letter to the editor in the Brunswick Times Record on October 24, 2022

Douglas Rooks’ analysis of Maine issues and his policy prescriptions nearly always make me nod in agreement. Not so with his “Doing public power the right way” (TR 10/20/2022).

We have two key points of agreement. First, Maine’s foreign-owned monopoly utilities, Central Maine Power and Versant, are among the worst performing in America. Second, creating a Maine Public Power Authority is needed to reach Maine’s ambitious climate goals: an accelerated transition to renewable energy and electrification of the economy (heat pumps, e.v.s, etc.). I’ve previously made this case in the Portland Press Herald (“Maine needs to ‘go big’ to meet climate goals” 3/22/2022).

Where Rooks’ analysis and policy prescription fall short is in his critique of the Pine Tree Power initiative, which would replace our investor-owned monopolies with a consumer-owned utility (COU). Rooks argument against Pine Tree Power rests on two core inaccuracies.

First, he contends that “Figuring out how this would actually work – there’s nothing like it elsewhere – can provoke queasiness.” On the contrary, America has a great deal of successful experience with consumer-owned utilities. Nearly one-third of American households – and 97 Maine towns — currently receive their power through COUs. Generally, COU electricity is both cheaper and more reliable than private monopolies.

Second, Rooks naively accepts Central Maine Power’s grossly inflated $13 billion estimate of the cost of acquiring its assets. The actual acquisition cost, to be established by independent auditors, is likely a fraction of that magnitude. And the assets would be acquired with low-interest loans.

Maine must indeed “go big” to reach its climate goals, and a consumer owned utility should be at the heart of our strategy.

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